The BT tower at Sutton Common, just to the south of Macclesfield, is a very familiar landmark for all locals … who once referred to it as ‘The Clock Tower’. It has become a vital navigational beacon / aid for many walkers and outdoor activities in the surrounding hills as it so clearly marks a reference point that is visible from five miles or more in all directions. The tower has been a constant feature of the landscape for over 50 years but its purpose has changed several times since it first appeared. Few people are aware of its current use but it continues to be equipped with an array of microwave drum antennas for line-of-sight links with its fellow towers to the north and south and a variety of small local distributions – mostly to the north and west which are connected via the waistband mounted dishes, one of these will be the input from Silk FM. Originally, the tower was festooned with large horn type microwave antennas giving it the appearance of a strange and sinister metal ‘pitcher plant’. At that time Sutton Common was coupled to other comms towers to the north, east, south and west and formed an integral part of a strategic NATO communications chain or trunk line intended to survive a nuclear war by its use of microwave line-of-sight connections bypassing major target areas! The design of the tower is supposed to be determined by its requirement to provide shielding against the electromagnetic pulse waves generated by nuclear detonations. It is also built to withstand the the predicted over-pressures generated by nuclear detonations over Manchester and Stoke with yields in the megaton range – though it is doubtful that it would survive a similar yield detonating over the former Woodford airfield just 6 miles to the north. Sutton Common was part of a command chain system code-named ‘Backbone’ and real-time RADAR tracking data from the Fylingdales BMEWS station was just one of many sensitive traffic flows that passed through here, along with signals intelligence and UK Warning and Monitoring Organisation traffic from regional government bunkers, it linked Preston with Hack Green and many others. There is a local legend that at this time it was guarded 24/7 by a military police unit based in the adjacent cottage or the engineering ‘ground house’. In essence, Sutton Common above all else, is really a huge monument to the cold war and the nightmares it could have unleashed. It was conceived as a key part of a communications channel that would have been responsible for warning us all of impending Armageddon, then coordinating nuclear retaliatory efforts and ultimately controlling what was left of the population.
These days the site is still an essential comms link for the national broadcasting network carrying BBC and ITV signals to the high power transmitter sites at Winter Hill, Holme Moss and Emily Moor and now also provides low power direct transmission of two local radio stations on FM and a couple of national digital DAB channel blocks covering the Macclesfield town area. In recent years developments in fibre optic cable technology threaten to make microwave line-of-sight methods obsolete as fibre has much high bandwidth capabilities.
More about it all here ; –